Charleston, South Carolina is home to some amazing and unique architecture that can only be seen in Charleston. Trust me, it’s worth the expense to visit Charleston to see its charm and beauty. And then you’ll never want to leave!
On my last day in sunny, warm Charleston, I participated in the Charleston Architecture Tour with Free Tours by Foot. The architecture tour is offered every other day alternating with the Civil War tour at 1pm. Charleston was America’s wealthiest city for many years and its wealth and decadence can be seen throughout the city, especially in the neighborhoods south of Broad Street. I met our tour guide, Scott, and a few others at Tommy Condon’s restaurant promptly at 1pm. Once our tour group was complete, he headed down Church Street and towards Broad Street.
As we walked down Church Street, Scott rambled on about the history of the area and pointing out unique homes and architectural features of specific historic homes. I half-listened, jotting notes down for things that peaked my interest, and snapped a million pictures of various homes, gates, and doors. Our first stop was the “Pirate House” that opened as a gift shop and tea garden in the 1920s. It is rumored that pirates lived in the house, but Scott said that’s just a local folklore that other tour guides love telling tourists.
Next up was the Heyward Washington House locate at 87 Church Street. It is open daily for house tours, but we just viewed the house from the outside. The house was built in 1772 in the Georgian-style double house. It was home to one of the four South Carolinian Declaration of Independence signers, Thomas Heyward Jr. Heyward was captured by British troops in 1780 and was exiled to St. Augustine, Florida. The house was rented for President George Washington’s weeklong presidential stay in Charleston in 1781 and has been called the Heyward-Washington House ever since as a result of it. The house contains 12 rooms with each of the 3 floors contains 4 rooms and a very narrow hallway.
Charleston is home to a unique style home called the Charleston single house. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Charleston architecture, chances are it is a picture of a single house. These houses are unique to Charleston and its climate. Many tour guides will tell you that single houses are popular in Charleston because back in the early days of the city, homeowners were taxed by their street frontage, but is an urban myth. Charleston single houses are popular for two main reasons. The first being that the lots were tight and narrow in the old walled city of Charles Towne and secondly because of the hot and humid climate. These houses are always built east-west or north-south. The piazzas (don’t ever call them porches to a native Charlestonian!) are always on the south or west sides to protect from the late afternoon sun when the sun is at its hottest. Windows are located at each end that helps with the flow of the breeze. Another interesting fact about this homes, the front door is not actually the front door. It opens to the ground level piazza or patio. Today there are over 78 pre-Revolutionary War Charleston single houses in Charleston. Each and every one of them is beautiful in their own right too!
We walked around some of the side streets just south of Broad. Scott pointed out more homes and the years they were built. He even pointed out Bill Murray’s house! He also mentioned that Bill Murray is famous for eating at one restaurant with his wife. As he is leaving, he’ll walk up to a random table, grab their fork and take a bite of that person’s food. He quickly puts the fork down and tells the person that no one will believe them when they tell the story to others. Ha! Got to love that man.
Across from Bill Murray’s house is the Miles Brewton House located at 27 King Street. It is a brick, two-story double house. A double house refers to a house with 4 rooms on it. The house was built in 1769 for Miles Brewton and housed both British and Union troops during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars respectively. In 1822 there was slave uprising in Charleston. It was quickly squashed, but many homeowners built these massive “barbed wire” on their front gates to keep house slaves inside and outside slaves outside. Lets just say you would not want to be impaled by one of these spikes! Yikes!
Legare Street contains some of the finest homes in Charleston. The street is quiet and lined with old live oak tress. However, Hurricane Hugo destroyed about 40% of the trees in Charleston in 1989. One of the most famous houses on Legare Street is the Simmons-Edwards House. It is a traditional Charleston single house built in the early 1800s for Francis Simmons. It is noteworthy for its brick fence with wrought iron gates featuring pineapples. It is often referred to as the “pineapple gate house,” which is exactly how I noted it in my travel journal. The house switched ownership a few times over the years and was sold as the highest price paid home in Charleston twice in its history. The gardens are beautiful and I recommend peaking through the gates to view them. The pineapples on the gates are not in fact pineapples either. They are Italian pinecones.
The Colonel John Stuart House located on Tradd Street is home to some very interesting history. The three-story Georgian style home was built in 1772 for Colonel John Stuart, who was the King’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the South. Scott told us that Francis Marion, who Mel Gibson protrayed in the movie The Patriot, was held captive in the home during the war. Since he was an officer he was imprisoned in a home versus the prison like the regular troops. One night he got all the British troops drunk and escaped by jumping out the window. He broke his ankle during his fall, but still managed to wade through the swamps to safety. Hence his name “swamp fox.”
Charleston is an absolutely stunning city to just walk around without a purpose. You can easily just get lost on the side streets looking for the perfect multi-million dollar home to entertain your wildest dreams. I certainly imagined myself living in many of the old Charleston single houses with their handmade wrought iron gates and their long, wide piazzas. If you want to learn more about the historic homes of Charleston and their unique architectural features, I recommend taking the Charleston Architecture Tour with Free Tours by Foot. You can’t go wrong!